by Rebecca Cannon
Click on images to access the games
THE LUDIC LOCALE
Anita Fontaine is an Australian-born digital artist who has exhibited her game-mod artworks; location-based interactive artworks; and video installation artworks internationally. The most striking element of her work is an ability to playfully fuse historical locales with contemporary technologies of ludology in a way which extends our understanding of the importance of location in game play. Her attention to aesthetic detail, and her genuine passion for game-based formats ensure her interactive works are incredibly enjoyable, beautiful experiences which invariable result in mass audience appeal. Like several of her contemporaries working with computer game modification, her works induce a revival of cultural artefacts to illustrate the foundations of computer games' pre-history, including Medieval pastimes, (as in the work of Stern and Condon), the Victorian appreciation of fairs and pleasure gardens, and she is perhaps the only fine artist in the recent adult fairtytale revival using computer game technologies to this end.
Born 1979 in Queensland, Australia, Fontaine graduated from the Queensland College of Art. Her initial attraction to Fine Art quickly incorporated computer games as an artistic format, particularly after enjoying the 1996 Nintendo classic Wipeout 2097, with its rich visual style contributed by the UK graphic design firm The Designer's Republic.
Although Fontaine was always interested in creating game art for galleries or site specific installations, she was also inspired by the (mostly Japanese) commercial games which "were keeping the innovative and malleable spirit of (commercial) games alive", like Jet Grind Radio (Smilebit, 2000), Ico (Fumito Ueda, 2001),
Viewtiful Joe (Capcom, 2003), Shenmue (Sega AM2, 1999), Evil Twin: Cyprian's Chronicles (Ubisoft, 2001), and the neo-gothic surrealist American McGee's Alice (Rogue Entertainment, 2000). For her own part Fontaine also worked professionally as a game designer and 3d artist at EA.
Her first artwork made from a game mod was produced with Luke Illet. Labrat (1999) was made in the Wild Tangent videogame editor and resulted in what was, at the time, an impressively alternative 3D space, that of an anarchist squat. Graffiti murals, sculptures composed of discarded technology à la Nam June Paik, a floating videogame arcade and ghetto blasters stuck in graveyards composed a world which could be interacted with via a VR headset. Like a haunted house at a theme park, the user's movement through the space triggered experiential events, in this case video clips and soundscapes. The resultant effect was that of possibly the world's first interactive music video.
CUTEXDOOM (2004) and CUTEXDOOM II (2009)
CuteXDoom (an Unreal Tournament 1 mod) and CuteXDoom II (an Unreal Tournament 3 mod) are collaborations with the digital artist Mike Pelletier, with Ilett producing music. Together the works form two levels of the CuteXDoom epic.
Like Takashi Murakami's Supercute aesthetic, CuteXDoom drew on the imagery and paraphernalia of kawaii and otaku to create a world in which Sally Sanrio becomes intrigued by a super modern religious cult called CuteXDoom, the followers of which believe that the possession and worship of cute objects will lead to happiness.
CuteXDoom II continues these themes but with a neo-gothic, surrealist twist.
"Sally Sanrio wakes up from her paroxysm to find herself in a familiar, yet changed, environment. Upon drinking a liquid nearby, she notices that the cute environment she once sought to enter is becoming increasingly strange and distorted. She realises that she has been poisoned. Once sweet characters now appear malevolent, predatory; the landscape becomes surreal and sinister, graphic forms are elegant, and almost cruel. In this altered state of perception she realises that the cult of CuteXDoom was not what she thought it would be, and that she must fight the effects of the poison to find the antidote and escape."
Like Condon 1, Fontaine is interested in the capacity of computer game's plasticity and immersiveness to trigger mind-altering experiences; however where Condon's neuro-cultural experiments highlight the psychedelic nature of a physical (be it hallucinogenic drugs or hallucinogenic religion) experience, Fontaine's approach, shared by surrealists and fantasy writers, is of a mind-altering experience triggered by a conceptual, rather than physical stimulus, where experiences induced by a fantasy reality provide a counterpoint to excessive rational thought.
"Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life."
(Breton, Surrealist Manifesto, 1924)
"How does a magical, intelligent +5 Vorpal Bastard Sword of chaotic evil alignment with psionic powers react to being dipped in a cauldron of LSD?"
Two smaller projects of Fontaine's further explore this approach. Sonne Refolke (911 times) depicts the artist sleeping, surrounded by fragments of a fairytale. Shown at Australia's National Portrait Gallery, Sonne Refolke is a short, animated video-loop portrait of the artist. In it, "the act of dreaming suddenly works like a magical spell that transforms a sedated reality into a surreal and wonderful garden. The animation is restless and seamless, looping forever to a soundtrack that invokes an offbeat Disney cartoon". Exhibited on a digital flatscreen in a gilded frame, Sonne Refolke obviously situates the artist within 'the omnipotence of dream'.
Underland (2004) was an online 3d experience inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Players searched for rabbit holes throughout the topsy turvy world in order to be warped to other sides of the world. The piece was developed using the 3d Axel plugin and was was exhibited at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Here fantasy and our shared memory of a surrealist narrative combine to evoke the altered state of displacement.
TECHNOCOLOR, THE HARLEQUIN LODGE (2008)
In 2007 Fontaine participated in the dLux Media Arts mentorship program, working with virtual-worlds artist Adam Nash to create a new work that would 'have longevity and a unique impact on the space and the local inhabitants' by designing an 'eclectic virtual architecture to challenge the social sensibilities of avatars'.
'Like a disorienting roadside attraction, Technocolor emulates a whimsical house off Route 66. Technocolor pays homage to experimental and fairytale architecture, and the ideologies behind creating these miniature fantasy worlds. Come, step right up, through the harlequin wallpaper and over the oscillating rainbows into a new disturbing and beautiful reality.'
GhostGarden is an interactive high fantasy which utilizes GPS technology in a pocket PC to guide participants through 'a surrreal journey throughout a garden environment to uncover the fragments of animation, sound and video content'. GhostGarden is based around a belief that 'every space has a story to tell', and is uniquely adapted to each environment it is shown in. The Sydney version of GhostGarden was set in the 1800s when there was a zoo in the Botanic gardens the piece is 'played' in. Equipped with period parasols, participants explored the location guided by their portable devices to uncover a fairytale story about Jack (a "castaway") and Lucy (a "displaced Victorian beauty"). Listening to headsets, and watching the cinematic experience unfold on their portable devices, the participatory, interactive technology combined with the telling of a fairytale narrative to invoke the participant's experience of a relocation within the garden's historic role of a pleasure garden.
Again, parallells can be drawn with Condon's work, in this case with his high fantasy; Twentyfivefold Manifestation (2008). Where Condon's work uses the physical placement of the player in a public park to spend two days living, in character, in a live action role playing game, Fontaine's work uses the garden as an enhanced illustration for surrealist story-telling.
In Condon's work it is the physical experience of being in the game location which alters participant's perspective of reality. In Fontaine's work it is the conceptual experience of translocating a historical event into the present which alters the participant's perspective of reality. Both pieces manipulate play to experiential effect, albeit through different conduits. In Condon's it is the R-Cortex, and M-Cortex or reptilian and mammalian cortexs; the cores of our brain which control physical movement, fight or flight and the identification of social tribes. In Fontaine's it is the H-Cortex, or human cerebral cortex, where conscious, narrative processing occurs. Condon's use of the physical is emphasized by the player participation in competitive duels. In Fontaine's, like the 'cultured' Victorian sensibilities she draws upon, the emphasis is on a 'higher order' notion of aesthetic pleasure. Both draw on mythology, one of fantasy war, the other fairytale.
Obvious correlations could be made about gender but this isn't a competition. Both artists successfully employ ludic locations as artistic media to affect a mind-altering state. The difference in their approaches is a result of their unique, inspired and talented creativity. The results are ours to playfully enjoy.
1 : www.tmpspace.com.